International travelers are returning to Southeast Asia, as restrictions remain in place in places like Singapore (here), Thailand and Indonesia.
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Singapore will criminalize sex between men, but it has no plans to change the legal definition of marriage, as it is between a man and a woman, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday.
Lee said Singapore’s society, especially young people in the city-state, is becoming more accepting of gay people.
“I believe this is the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will now accept,” he said in his annual National Day rally speech, adding that the government would repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, Which is a colonial era law. Outlaws sex between men.
It was not clear when exactly the law would be repealed.
Singapore has become the latest Asian country to move closer to ending discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.
In 2018, India’s Supreme Court also lifted a colonial-era ban on same-sex sex, while Thailand has recently moved closer to legalizing same-sex unions.
In Singapore, under Section 377A, the law can punish offenders with up to two years in prison, but this is not currently actively enforced. For decades there has been no known conviction for sex between consenting adult men and the law does not cover sex between women or the other sex.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) groups have brought a number of legal challenges in an effort to dismantle the law, but none have succeeded.
In February, Singapore’s Supreme Court ruled that since the law is not being enforced, it does not infringe on constitutional rights, as argued by the plaintiffs, and it affirmed that it would impose a penalty on men to have gay sex. The law cannot be used to prosecute.
Lee said opposition remains to the repeal of the law, particularly among some religious groups, including Muslims, Catholics and some Protestants.
Singapore is a multi-racial and multi-religious society of 5.5 million, of whom about 16% are Muslim, with large Buddhist and Christian communities. As of the 2020 census, it has a predominantly ethnic Chinese population, with Malay and Indian minorities.
Lee emphasized his government’s continued support for the traditional definition of marriage.
“We believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, that children should be raised in such families, that the traditional family should be the basic building block of society,” he said.
Singapore will “protect the definition of marriage from being constitutionally challenged in the courts”, he said, adding, “This will enable us to repeal Section 377A in a controlled and carefully considered manner.”